Falling with style: welcome to the dizzying world of speedflying, where the aim is to get as close to the ground as possible
The Swiss Alps in summer are a paradise of peace and quiet. Beneath the lonely peaks glaciers, meltwater bubbles down into little streams, sleepily watched by dozing cows to the gentle chime of their bells. A place where you can go to relax. It’s all very Heidi and The sound of Music-y – a haven of tranquility away from the troubles of the world – unless your name is Jamie Lee.
Jamie Lee is a speedflyer, which means he likes to jump off mountains with an undersized paragliding wing in order fly down them as fast and low to the ground as possible. In this second (of seven) video of his collaboration video with GoPro he launches out over a crevasse-riddled glacier, before diving down the mountain through a series of terrifyingly tight and twisty gullies and stream beds and eventually pulling out into the open valley below.
When most people look at the swiss alps, they think about skiing, hiking and mountaineering, generally activities that involve being fastened to the earth in one way or another. Jamie Lee sees these majestic mountains as a playground and an opportunity to progress the sport of speedflying to places it has yet to go.
Some might call Jamie a madman, but he’s been pushing the limits of speed flying (the winter version of the sport with skis strapped to the feet is known as speed riding) since 2011, falling in love with the sport after initially learning to sky dive in New Zealand. He’s spent countless hours in the air training in order to master the skills needed for such proximity flying: he describes needing to know the wing as if it were another limb.
Speed flying wings are similar to paragliding wings, but are smaller for improved agility, smaller glide ratio (think more fall and less fly in order to stay closer to the ground) and to minimise weight and bulk when hiking to the launch zone. They are also much faster, able to fly at speeds of 20 to 90 mph versus a paraglider’s 12 to 50 mph. The small size and high speeds allows them to be safely flown in higher winds than traditional paragliding wings too: the wings stay more pressurised, and so resist collapsing in turbulent conditions.